A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN ^ in divisions and army corps, hundreds of tanks and guns and thousands of vehicles. The advancing armies bled and lost strength; German headquarters were aware of this, but they were no longer in a position to retard develop- ments and were therefore obliged to throw more and more reserves into the inferno of battle. The Soviet Command parried the German blows with the forces that were holding the defence line here. Watch- ing the growing fury of the Germans they held their reserves deep in the rear until the enemy's drive had lost its impetus. As Meresyev learned later, the function of his wing was to cover an army concentrated for a coun- ter-stroke. That explained why the tanks, and the fighter units that were to act in conjunction with them, were mere spectators in the first stage of the great battle. When all the enemy forces had been brought into action, "read- iness No. 2" was rescinded at the airfield. The crews were permitted to sleep in the dugouts and even to undress. Meresyev and Petrov rearranged their quarters. They threw out the pin-ups and foreign views, tore down the German cardboard and packing-paper and decorated the wall with fir and birch twigs; after that the creepy rustle of dribbling sand no longer disturbed the dugout One morning, when the bright sunbeams were already streaming through the open entrance of the dugout on to the pine-needles carpeting the floor, and when the friends were still stretching in the bunks which had been built in niches in the walls, hurried footsteps were heard on the path overhead and somebody shouted what was a magic word at the front: "Postman!" Both simultaneously threw off their blankets, but while Meresyev was tightening his foot straps, Petrov ran up, caught the postman and came back, triumphantly cany- ing two letters for Alexei, one from his mother and one from Olya. Alexei snatched the letters out of Ms friend's hand, but in that instant the rapid beating of the gong came from the airfield, calling the crews to tibeii* machines. Meresyev slipped the letters inside his tunic and, for- getting about them at once, hastened after Petrov along the track in the wood leading to the machines. He ran fairly fast, using his stick and waddling only slightly.